US News Rankings and Mailbox Overflow

Academic reputation is a big component of US News rankings, but it’s hard to influence. The academic rankings are partially self-reinforcing–our perceptions of other schools are influenced in large part by what prior rankings said.

To overcome this, many schools send marketing mailers to showcase the school. These materials highlight the quantity of the faculty’s scholarship, the school’s interesting programs, the accomplishments of its alumni, and the physical attractiveness of its facilities and its students. In theory, these marketing mailers improve academic rankings by helping recipient professors form more positive impressions of the mailing school.

As a practical consequence, we as professors get a deluge of marketing pieces around this time in the semester (i.e., coinciding with distribution of the US News survey). Every day this week, I’ve gotten several items of US News-inspired promotional mailings; yesterday I got four pieces, including a 100 page plus glossy magazine, a thick brochure about an IP program and a couple conference announcements.

I would like to read these mailings because I’m genuinely interested in what other schools are doing. On the other hand, the volume is simply too much to keep up. If I spent all of my time reading the inflow about other’s accomplishments, I’d never accomplish anything of my own!

This means, realistically, that many of the mailings go straight into the trash unread. In particular, I’ve now adopted an across-the-board rule: the big glossy magazines automatically go into the trash because they take too long to read. Mailing schools, take note!

UPDATE: October 17: 7 law school promotional items today.